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By Curt Smothers

Create efficient reports from a Microsoft Access database

We collect and enter data into our database so that we can access it later, compare it with similar information and make appropriate decisions based on what it tells us. The most common use of data is by way of reports. A report from a database is all or some of the data we entered and displayed in a way that is meaningful and uncluttered. Reports, therefore, are the reason we collect the data.

Microsoft Access has a reports wizard

Microsoft Access, or simply Access as it is known, has a powerful report generator that can group, compile, and display information in large databases in a variety of formats. Once your data is entered, Access can automatically generate formatted reports through the use of built-in "wizards" that give the novice a head start and self-training tool for designing useful attractive reports.

Plan ahead

Creating efficient reports is not a goal to consider at the time you are designing the report. That goal must be addressed during the first planning stages of the database. One major purpose of entering and maintaining data is so that it can be viewed in an orderly manner, frequently by managers who make important decisions based on the reports. If bad decisions are made about the database design and composition, those decisions will be reflected in the inability to retrieve good reports from that bad data.

Planning considerations

When you are designing a database, consider what reports you need to generate from the data you will be collecting and entering. Will the report need to be grouped in a way that filters out confusing (but necessary for the database) detail? Are there computations, such as additions or averages, needed in the report? How are the data filtered, such as displayed in a manner that omits similar information?

The composition of your data, such as its format, attributes, and sophistication, are all things that must be considered before the data is entered. You cannot produce a report that calculates ounces, when the data you entered is in pounds, for example.

Good data will yield effective queries

If your data is solid and entered in a manner you know will produce effective reports, the next consideration is how to design the reports in a way that includes what managers need to see and excludes what is not necessary. Ways to exclude unnecessary data include designing the report to show only the pertinent data fields, or based on queries that select unique elements within a field, such as city and date range. Queries also have the advantage of allowing the user to specify a parameter in a dialog box and then run a report, which, in turn, precludes the need to store many reports.

Presentation considerations

The final consideration is mainly aesthetic. Should the report be displayed in columns or subtotaled groupings or in portrait or landscape orientation? These considerations are covered nicely in Access's reports wizards where the designer can through trial and error decide what is the optimum way to display the data. These wizards also have the advantage of being a built-in reports design tutor for the novice.

The principal advantage of Access's reports feature is its ability to use a personalized report template to display continually changing data. This advantage can only be brought to bear by intelligent database design and getting the report structure and aesthetics right.

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